Nearly nine months after their last single dropped, the British alt-rock band Muse finally released new content, a single called Thought Contagion. The lyrics revolve around the spread of ideas, holding that if an idea gains enough traction, then there’s no way to stop it from invading everyone’s lives, even if they don’t believe it–and even if it’s a bad idea.
Muse is no stranger to heavy-handed lyrics. Their last three studio albums–The Resistance, The 2nd Law, and Drones–relied heavily on current events for their lyrical themes, and their second-to-last single Dig Down included the line: “When God decides to look the other way/and a clown takes the throne….” It’s nothing if not overt.
At first, I was really bogged down by the heavy-handedness of Thought Contagion. Three verses of sentence-fragmented metaphors describing a dismal, apocalyptic scenario are broken by the choruses of, “You’ve been bitten by a true believer…by someone who’s hungrier than you…by someone’s false beliefs.” Not a lot of subtlety there, and it’s wrapped up in a lot of pessimism, such as, “Brace for the final solution.” Yikes.
It’s suffocating to focus on these lyrics. We all know what it’s like to have idea after idea crammed into our heads. It’s impossible to get away from hearing the ideology of people who just know they’re right. Idea after idea after idea, and they’re in our classrooms and homes and offices, in our social media and news and ads, in our movies and books and art. No one could spend a single day without at least inadvertently encountering the ideas of someone who believes they’re right with every fiber of their being. These ideas could be about religion, politics, science, philosophy, sex, art–if someone can have a belief in something for which they’d be willing to die, you can bet they’ll be yelling it loudly from all platforms of social media in an attempt to get it across to even one person.
While there’s nothing more annoying than listening to “someone’s false beliefs,” some of those false believers are getting through to other people. In a country where polarization is a driving force of media, anyone who was neutral on anything at some point has been “bitten” by one side or the other, shrinking the middle ground and forcing both sides of any issue imaginable to resort to extremes, in both beliefs and in the actions for which they call they call.
Muse can do better stylistically than the lyrics of Thought Contagion, but maybe this time they’re not going for poetic–they’re going for a call-out. They’re back on the dystopian track, taking our current situation and stretching it to its logical extreme: if we stop thinking for ourselves and let the momentous force of zealous ideologies take us over, then “it’s too late for a revolution.” Thought Contagion reminds us to take a breath, step back from the inundation of media (as much as we can), and think things through before blindly getting caught up in the storm of shouting matches before the shouting matches turn to nuclear wars.